Fan Fiction - Written by Doug Fowler - Alternative Universe

Young Talent Night
Written by: Doug Fowler

A/N: I had a little time and a few more story ideas. I leave others to do other realistic, "Full House" stories, but not everyone knows the books. Steph knew Allie in books since Kindergarten. Allie had to move before Middle School, or Steph wouldn't have only mentioned the Jennifers being in different districts, she'd have mentioned her, too. The fact she was so close with them in 5th but not before (or they'd have known about her ears, too) means Allie likely moved before 5th.

So, if Allie stays things are different in the TVU, and not just because of stories like my "How To Entertain Yourself in an Airport," which I refer to. Steph's still not as mature as in books where D.J. is more a mother figure, but she would have a good balance to Gia in the quiet, cautious Allie for seasons 7 and 8. And, a piano player for the episode "We Got The Beat," by Mark Warren and Dennis Rinsler, as books often mention she's taken lessons for a long time.

Thirteen-year-old Stephanie Tanner plopped down on a chair in the basement, totally flustered. Her best friend since Kindergarten, Allie Taylor, shot her a friendly, compassionate look. Neither wanted to say it, but both were feeling the same thing.

Though Allie was still rather quiet and shy - a perfect match for the outgoing, very talkative Stephanie - she'd learned through the years when it was good to speak first; indeed, next year, she'd wind up as eighth grade class president. "It's been rough, huh?"

Stephanie agreed. As her Uncle Jesse suggested they "take five," she took the guitar off her shoulder and said resignedly, "I guess the problem solved itself."

"Not the way you wanted, I'm sure."

"We don't always get what we want," Jesse remarked, trying to put a positive spin on things. "I mean, you were lucky Allie's dad found another job so he could stay here, they almost had to move across the country after fourth grade."

"Uncle Jesse, right now I don't want anyone to ramble."

"Sorry. Guess I started to sound like your dad, huh?" Jesse - Danny Tanner's late wife's younger brother - and Danny's best friend from school, Joey Gladstone, had moved in to help Danny raise his girls when Stephanie was five, D.J. ten, and Michelle a baby. He now lived in their attic apartment with his wife, Becky, and their twin boys, Nicky and Alex. "I'll leave you two to talk about it." He sometimes tried too hard to impart his wisdom, but now he sensed Stephanie and her friends needed time alone.

Stephanie smiled a moment after Jesse left. "You know, it is a good thing you stayed, Allie. You keep me on the right track, though I don't always like to admit it." She recalled the fun they'd had for six weeks when Steph might have been more frustrated than usual when D.J. was in Spain. Then, Allie kept the younger girls from getting on a plane to New Zealand. "It wouldn't have gotten real bad, I'd have learned my lesson pretty fast, but without you, I'd have probably tried to do more stuff Gia did otherwise." She started prancing. "It's just that things seemed to be getting better. And now..."

"You've been the real force behind it when Gia stopped smoking, started being more respectful, getting better grades, and that sort of thing," Allie encouraged her.

"True. Of course, you helped. And, I didn't always listen to you. Like when I wanted to get in with those popular girls and got my ears pierced."

Allie decided she'd better admit some of her own shortcomings, to be fair. "Well, I'm not Gia, but I'm not perfect, either. Like, I called Walter 'Duckface' and laughed at him like the rest of our class that time in second."

"You're right." Stephanie could be hard on herself, especially when trying to help a girl like Gia. When Steph and Gia fought over a boy, and Steph blew Gia's report card up for all to see, Allie - and Jesse - convinced Stephanie to apologize and start encouraging Gia. Gia had become a friend of both. It was uneasy at times, but they'd managed. Although, as Stephanie reminisced, "Sometimes I just feel so stuck in the middle."

Stephanie, Allie, and Gia were in a mall shopping before seventh grade began. "It was nice of your mom to bring us, Gia. She seems really nice."

"Thanks, Allie," Gia said. "I'm glad I started to be nicer to her."

"Well, it's important to be respectful," Allie said.

"No, I mean just to get Stephanie off my case." Gia admitted lowly, "I do think about what you both said, about how Steph felt after her mom died. I'm sure she talked your head off about that those first few months of Kindergarten."

Allie agreed. Things like that, being Maid of Honor when Stephanie "married" their friend Harry to get attention, and sitting beside Stephanie as Michelle snuck into their fourth grade classroom Michelle's first day of Kindergarten were all things she vividly recalled about their friendship. This new girl that they'd met in Middle School was finally becoming part of their circle of friends. And, she liked it.

Allie saw Stephanie holding a top matching Gia's, though. "Steph, what are you doing?"

"Don't you think we'd look great in matching outfits, Allie?"

"I'm not wearing that alone as a top. I don't want my belly button to show."

Gia rolled her eyes. "You don't have to. Just Stephanie and I will. Right, Stephanie?".

Allie motioned Stephanie aside. "Steph," she whispered, "do you really want that?"

"Why not, I think it's cool."

"Why not get an outfit to match one of mine? And don't say I look like your dad."

"Of course not; he wouldn't wear a dress." She thought for a second. "Well, there was one time, but let's not get into that."

"You're making jokes to avoid the dilemma, aren't you?"

"What dilemma? I'm going to pick what I want to wear, that's all."

"Are you picking what you want to wear," Allie asked poignantly, "or what she wants you to wear?" Stephanie hesitated. "Steph, I'm your best friend. I'd accept you if you went to school in a Halloween costume."

"That was Kimmy;" Kimmy Gibbler was D.J.'s very strange and dumb best friend.

"It was? I was just joking!" Allie shook her head in disbelief. "Anyway, if Gia's really your friend, don't you think she'd accept you even if you just wore a sensible top and slacks like me?"

Stephanie sighed, and gazed at the top. She wanted it, but yet, there was part of her that really didn't. "Well..." She wasn't sure. "You've just always been so cautious. Of course, a lot of times you've been right ..."

"Steph, I'm not saying you can't. But, do you really like to show off your navel?"

Stephanie didn't really want to, and Allie knew it. The Tanners were rather conservative clothing-wise. Danny was comfortable at times around the house in a shirt and tie, in fact. She'd had talks with her Aunt Becky and D.J. about not showing all the wrong parts of her. In fact, she could hear a voice saying that the real Stephanie was on the inside. It annoyed her that it sounded like her dad. And yet, she kind of wanted to listen.

Thankfully, Allie was there to tip the balance. "Okay, but if anyone asks who that voice sounds like, it's not my dad. Maybe it's yours," she quipped.

Back in the present, Stephanie recalled that time. "I still messed my room up, but I didn't rebel near like I might have. Not going quite as far - and having Gia still like me -helped me not want to do everything she did. Still, you and I were out doing something one evening, or I might have been tempted to go to that party where Gia's mom wouldn't be there." It had turned out to be a makeout party. "I didn't really want to go, since I knew her mom wouldn't be there; and that was even without knowing what it was. But, I needed someone I knew I could hang out with instead to give me an excuse. Same with the joyriding, after we met a couple boys at the mall."

Allie recalled. Stephanie and Allie had gotten a ride home with D.J. later. That's when they admitted the "argument" they had with Gia was really Gia just choosing to joyride instead of having her mom pick them up. When Stephanie finally was convinced by D.J. and Allie to call to make sure Gia was okay - even though it might mean telling her mother if Gia wasn't home - Gia was home and told Stephanie she was going with the boys again and Stephanie couldn't stop her.

"I'm glad you've been there to help when I've been overexcited. Of course, Dad wouldn't let me see Gia for a while anyway after that; I'd have been grounded long enough to learn my lesson easy if I'd done it. Thankfully, you were there for me."

"That's what friends are for." Allie had to laugh. "Even when it was something more innocent, like when you and Gia tried to set up your dad and her mom."

Allie was seated on Michelle's bed as the three discussed fashion. Michelle walked in, and Allie moved over to make room for her. Allie was an only child, and had enjoyed doing things with Michelle when younger. Gia and Stephanie began talking about how neat it would be to be sisters and room together.

"Where would I sleep?" Michelle asked.

Allie assured her that, "They wouldn't forget about you."

"But, Stephanie's my sister, not Gia's."

"Michelle, we're trying to have a mature conversation," Stephanie said.

"It's my room, too," Michelle said.

"But, you don't have any guests up here," Stephanie countered.

Michelle insisted she did. "Allie's my guest." Allie gave her a confused look. "If Stephanie can have another sister, so can I. Would you like to sleep over here tonight?" Michelle turned and asked her, trying to counter what Stephanie was saying.

Trying not to make waves with her friends, Allie gave her the same compassionate, yet amused, look she had when Michelle crawled under the desks in fourth grade. "I wish I had a little sister. We've never had much money, so my parents only planned on me."

"Well, you're welcome to have her then," Gia quipped. Stephanie understood it was a joke, though somewhat harsh - but Michelle didn't.

Later, as Danny and Gia's mother, Claire, were out on a date at Jesse's club, the Smash Club, Stephanie, Allie, and Gia were hanging out together. Suddenly, Michelle walked up to them. "Allie, I've got some stuff in the car."

"What stuff?" Allie asked.

Suddenly, Danny invited Michelle over to meet Claire. "Hi, I'm Michelle Taylor," Michelle explained.

Danny laughed. "Honey, your last name is Tanner."

"What's the problem? I'll change it again when I get married." She told Claire, "Allie's my new sister."

"What?" Claire asked.

She told Danny, "I'll need my own sister when you two get married."

"'s our second date."

"Not to Gia it isn't. But, we'll have lots of fun together, right, Allie?" Michelle asked the girls several tables away.

"What? Michelle, I thought you were joking when..." Allie shook her head as she walked over to their table. "I'm sorry, Mr. Tanner. Stephanie and Gia were talking about getting you two together. I should have said something with Michelle there."

"It's okay. It's better to find out early. Like I should have listened when Steph told me how yucky chocolate covered broccoli would taste. But, I'll listen to you."

She smiled. It was funny, but at the same time, being outside the actual situation, she saw better what Michelle felt. "Michelle, I would gladly do stuff with you if nobody else was around and Stephanie and Gia were doing something. But, Stephanie and the rest of your family would, too," Allie told her. "And, I'm sure they want you. I know they love you."

"Allie's right," Stephanie said. "Gia, I need some time alone to talk with Michelle." Stephanie and Michelle went to another table, and Stephanie apologized and explained that they weren't trying to push her aside, so everything worked out. Danny promised nobody would ever enter the family unless everyone was comfortable with them.

"Thanks for helping to clear that up, Allie," Stephanie said, back in the present. "I guess she really is devoted to me. At least she didn't act like a rebel like Gia does. Now I'm glad Dad and Gia's mom never got much closer. Dad could never control Gia," Stephanie declared, voicing her frustration and recalling some of the other things Gia had done.

Allie could tell Stephanie was upset at the present situation. "It seemed like it would be so much fun to be in a band together."

"You're right." Stephanie picked up her guitar. "The Smash Club's having their young talent night, Gia was ungrounded and I could see her again after that joyriding thing she did, and with you as a piano player, it all seemed so perfect."

Gia and Michelle could stand each other by now. And, Stephanie, Gia, and their friend Melissa had begun to discuss forming a band. "All we need is a piano player," Gia said.

"Oh, I can solve that; Allie's been taking lessons for years, remember? She'd be great! She's at a piano lesson now, but I'll call her when she gets home!" Stephanie was so thankful that Allie had stayed; who knows who they might have found otherwise.

Gia didn't want to hurt her feelings; she'd become friends with both. Still, Gia was still not always one to think of others too well. "I don't know if she'll like the image I see for 'Girl Talk.'"

"Gia, don't you think we need a piano player before we think about songs or an image?"

"You're always so practical, Tanner," Gia said with distaste.

"Practical can be good. Look, we know a great piano player, we've got my Uncle Jesse to manage us, I'm sure we'll be a hit." Gia finally decided to go along with it.

However, some of their ideas would be incompatible. First, their musical tastes were different. "So, what do you think?" Stephanie asked, as they were all gathered in Stephanie and Michelle's room to discuss Young Talent Night.

"I like hip hop. Grunge. That sort of thing," Gia said.

Allie shook her head. She didn't mind the less raunchy hip hop music, but she had an even better idea. "No way. Steph, remember when we were nine and I learned to play that one Whitney Houston song, and you and I did a duet on your piano downstairs?"

She did. "My dad loved it. Another good song is 'Wind beneath My Wings.' There have been a couple different performers who did that one."

Gia scoffed. "That sound is so 1980s. We need something more hip." She mentioned several bands, saying they could be just like them.

"'The Greatest Love of All' is a very powerful song," Allie countered.

Stephanie thought of a compromise. "Look, what about a song like Ace of Base's 'The Sign.'" The others agreed. "That's not way out there. And, even if you've never played it, you can learn it, Allie."

"You're right." She wasn't totally confident, since she'd never played it; and, they would be playing in front of an audience. They didn't have near as long to practice as she did for recitals. Still, she managed to find her courage. "I don't know it too well, so I'd have to get some music for it, but I guess that's okay. If we're going to play together, we'll have to practice a lot, anyway." Allie wasn't afraid to express her opinion, but this was one she was completely willing to give in on. Her tastes in music were a touch more conservative than Stephanie's, but still close. Gia had influenced Stephanie more toward her interests, but they all liked the one chosen.

What Gia said next stunned Allie. "Are you kidding? We know it. We have to get outfits and work on our look, so we can be really cool out there. You can practice on your own."

"What?" Allie exclaimed. "You can't just get together and play a song and have it sound right. Look how much I've practiced for recitals even without accompaniment."

They debated for several minutes. Finally, Jesse walked in. She figured they were saved. "Okay, let's get this show on the road," Jesse said. He was suddenly met with the same arguing Stephanie had been hearing. "Whoa, whoa, wait a minute, slow down."

"Uncle Jesse, I'm glad you're here. I'm having a little problem deciding between my two best friends," Stephanie said.

"Oh, well, that's easy. Pick both of 'em."

"It's not as simple as having two best men at a wedding. Gia thinks we should focus mostly on image, and Allie thinks we need to work and practice together almost all the time. What do you think?"

Jesse said quickly, "I gotta go with Allie. Steph, if you guys don't work together, especially on a song she's just learning, you're gonna sound like a bunch of gibberish." He hadn't understood much of what was being said when he walked in, but he had caught that Allie didn't know it well.

"But, Uncle Jesse, Gia's my friend, too." Stephanie was mostly upset at the fact Jesse didn't seem to be acknowledging Gia at all. "I have to please both of them."

"Look, I have to get up to your speed on the song, since I don't know it as well," Allie said finally, hoping to soothe the fraying nerves a bit. "Maybe you could look at outfits while I do that, and we'll meet after supper. We don't want to clash out there." She didn't like the idea of not doing that with Stephanie, but she was willing to let them pick something nice for her. Stephanie knew what she liked, anyway.

Jesse was anxious to get started, but he also like the sound of Allie's idea. "Okay, there, see, problem solved. You can say you spent some time with Gia, and you won't feel like a beginner, Allie." Jesse mentioned the importance of working together and getting everything in order "right away" once they got back.

Stephanie didn't mind that too much. But, Gia did. She declared that Stephanie's uncle was totally behind the times. And, Stephanie was even more frustrated after they'd spent a short time in the mall, and Allie had gone over the song and was ready to practice. Becky had taken them and shopped with them, bringing them back in time for supper; a period of time Gia had said was "way too short."

Allie was at least sure enough about the song that she could get in sync with the others rather easily once they started to work on it. This had led to the present problem in the recording studio after supper.

Gia came down the steps hungry for candy. "Anyone have any airheads?"

"There's one next door," Stephanie teased, referring to Kimmy.

"Okay," Jesse said rapidly, clapping his hands, "let's get to our places, everyone." Allie got on the keyboard, Stephanie on the guitar, and Gia was still stuck on "complain."

"We've still got all sorts of things to do; you can't just pick out a few nice outfits," Gia told them all. "You have to accessorize! And work on that look. Tanner?" Stephanie gave a look she'd given earlier. "You don't look very tough. Look, just don't look too close at the camera when we do an album. Allie?" Allie gave a look that was totally un-tough. "Maybe you can hide behind the keyboard on our albums."

Jesse held up his hands, signaling for Gia to stop. "Look, I let you go out and pick out some outfits to buy later, now it's time to practice. You can look as pretty as you want but it won't matter if you don't sound pretty," Jesse complained.

"Listen, this is our band, not yours," Gia shouted at Jesse.

Stephanie spoke up. "Look, let's just calm down and start to play so we can see where we're at," she suggested. "We can talk about this later."

"No, we'll talk about it now," Jesse and Gia said simultaneously.

Jesse looked strangely at Gia. "Since when did I start agreeing with you?"

Stephanie was always good at taking charge. She chose to ignore the bickering. "Melissa, Allie, why don't we start." The girls were in sync for a short time, and then one went too fast. They tried again, with Gia joining in reluctantly, and one overcompensated. They tried a few more times, and got closer, but still weren't too good.

"See, this is just what I mean," Jesse told Gia. "Okay, now let's just take it from the top, practice a few lines at a time before trying to put it all together."

"Why me," Gia complained, "they're the ones who can't get together."

"We'd be closer if you weren't so gung ho on picking a wardrobe," Stephanie complained, as mad at Jesse's pushiness as she was at Gia. However, she did know that Allie had practiced a lot for recitals, something she wouldn't have thought of without her being there the last few years.

Gia got more upset when Jesse started to complain again. "Why don't you pick my side for a change instead of always taking her side, Tanner?" Gia shouted, pointing at Allie.

"Always? She wanted to do Whitney Houston, and I compromised."

"Yeah, I just want to do a good job, and have fun," Allie said simply, trying to help.

"I'm telling you, we don't have time to worry about that; a band has got to have an image down for their albums, and that means public relations," Gia barked.

Jesse flailed a hand. "An album, you don't even have a song down yet!"

"Look, could you please just let my friends and I solve this," Stephanie pleaded.

Jesse threw up his hands as Allie jumped in. He was glad she thought like him, or else he would have jumped in instead. "If we did Whitney Houston we might not have to practice quite as long, but you'd still need to, Gia, and we'd all still need to work hard at it."

"I'm not interested in practicing," Gia spouted, "I'm interested in being a star!"

"Oh, come on, what's that supposed to mean...?" Jesse caught Stephanie's look, and held up his hands. "I know, 'Stay out of this, Uncle Jesse.'" He could tell Stephanie was caught in the middle, and he trusted her enough he'd let her try and work things out, as long as she didn't go too far toward Gia's side. He really didn't think she would, but he tried to be ready to seize any chance to step in.

"Look," Stephanie said, trying to placate Gia, "no matter what we pick we've never performed together before." She shot Allie an apologetic look. "Maybe Gia and Melissa and I could work on our image, and join you later? I mean, you are getting better with the song ..." Stephanie wasn't sure what to say, but she was more afraid of losing Gia than she was of losing Allie.

"But, Steph, we've always enjoyed doing stuff together."

"I know. This would just be one thing we don't. Dad's always said just because you're best friends doesn't mean you have to do everything together. Not that D.J. and Kimmy ever listened to that, but still..."

Gia agreed. "That's right, Steph, don't worry about her. We can work on our image and your uncle can manage Allie if he wants."

Jesse worried that now, he had to step in. Thankfully, he wouldn't have to confront Stephanie directly. He'd use Allie to bring her back to his line of thinking, "advertising" it like when he and Joey were in that business together. Here, he'd help her to think about the fun of Allie's side. "Steph, don't you remember when you and Allie sang 'Tomorrow' for a promo on your dad's show the summer before second grade? Joey and me was just dyin' to find a place where you guys could do that in an ad back when we were in advertising. I really thought you two could be stars if you worked hard enough, 'cause I knew Allie loved to play piano and you liked to sing and loved doing stuff with her."

"Stephanie and I can be stars," Gia countered.

Allie chided Gia with a grin, trying not to sound too harsh but still feeling, if not upset, certainly a little perturbed by Gia's line of reasoning. And, by the fact she was trying to draw Stephanie away. "I remember my piano teacher joking once that you can't learn to perform through osmosis," Allie told her.

"Of course not," Gia retorted, "what's turning sunlight into energy got to do with it?"

"That's photosynthesis," Stephanie said tiredly.

Gia wasn't paying attention to what Stephanie corrected her on; only to the word, which she confused with another one. "That's right, Tanner, that's what we have to do, we have to get an image so we can be photosynthetic."

"That's photogenic," Allie said with a laugh. "And, we need to sound good first."

Jesse decided it was best to ignore the preceding weirdness when it came to encouraging Stephanie. "Allie's right. Steph, she's been your best friend since Kindergarten. Now, I know you're friends with Gia, too, but the chance to put together a great musical team with someone you've known your whole life is something you don't usually get. And, you've got that chance, to practice and perform with a really close friend. And, Gia can be a part of that, too."

Stephanie was really unsure now. "Well..."

"Come on, Tanner, who's it gonna be, her or me?" Gia asked insistently.

When Allie said she didn't mind, Stephanie was reminded of the issue with the clothing. She saw again who her true friends were. "You'd be happy for me either way, huh?"

"Sure. I'd feel hurt at first," she said, showing a little with her words, 'but you're my friend. Of course I'd support you."

"Yeah, but Steph, wouldn't you rather do all that rehearsing and stuff with Allie than without her?" Jesse asked insistently.

"Of course," Stephanie maintained. "Come on, Gia, wouldn't you rather be in the band with us?" Stephanie asked, hoping Gia would agree. Otherwise, she faced a real problem.

"Not if it means practicing like your uncle says to. He's too bossy."

"What do you mean I'm bossy, all I'm tryin' to do is help."

"All I need is a soundtrack, and I could beat all of you easy."

"Gia...we don't want you to leave 'Girl Talk.'"

"Well, if you insist on following your uncle, I will. And, I'll come up with an image that leaves you in the dust!" When Jesse protested, Gia stormed up and out of the Tanner home. Melissa left to think; she'd been quiet because she'd seen this was a tough spot for Stephanie and a spat between Allie and Gia. She wasn't sure what she wanted.

Stephanie and Allie had finally finished discussing it. They trudged upstairs, to see Jesse and Becky at the kitchen table.

"Hey, guys. Listen...Becky and I were talkin'...I don't want you to think I was tryin' to choose sides with your friends or nothin'." Though Jesse had to admit that that might have been what he was doing, in a way, if only to get them to see his point, since Allie seemed to understand it well, with all the practice she did.

"It's okay, Uncle Jesse." Stephanie's voice said she didn't totally mean that it was okay, but that right now, she just didn't want to think about it. On the one hand, she'd really disliked the way it had been handled, but on the other, she wasn't sure how else they could have solved the dilemma.

"It's just that not all the bands I helped put together stayed together; I saw where this was headed, and I just...well, I wanted to spare you the pain of having it break up later."

"Yeah, well, they're my friends, Uncle Jesse." She sighed. "But, there didn't seem to be much room for compromise, huh? I just wish you'd let me learn that myself."

"You know, I want to be in a band to have fun. I don't want us to have to be the next great band. I can see where Gia, and probably Steph, wanted to; I mean, it would be nice to be stars. But, I play for fun. I've done lots of rehearsing for recitals, but while my teacher makes light jokes like the one I mentioned, I don't like it when it seems like we have to do it," Allie said. "Practicing gets tedious enough without that at times."

"I know I've been kind of tough on you. I want you to do well, Steph. I care so much about you, and I want you to be a winner. That's all." Allie's comment forced him to realize he probably wanted them to succeed like him; but, he wasn't going to push like Danny had been with Stephanie's dancing. And, he wasn't really sure now how much of that desire for stardom had been Stephanie's, and how much had been Gia's. "But, you know, if you just wanna play around and have fun like D.J. did with the Bracelets for a while before they stopped, that's fine, too. I never pushed her like I did you 'cause they didn't talk about bein' the 'next great band' like you guys had been."

"Thanks." Stephanie was glad to know Jesse wouldn't be really pushy; it had bothered her a bit, too, but that had been overshadowed by Gia's attitude and the frustration over having to choose. She turned to Allie and said, "We don't know what Gia will play."

Allie cracked a smile as she said, "Probably won't be Whitney Houston; at least we know that. I was kind of hoping Gia would pick that for another reason. It talks about choosing to like yourself, to believe in yourself. My mom says Gia probably acts like she does because she just doesn't like herself very much on the inside."

Becky concurred. "I think your mom's got a good point, Allie."

"True. Might not be a bad idea to pick that; just so we don't play the same song she does," Stephanie said pensively.

"So, you wanna try to win this thing?" Jesse asked hopefully.

"You bet. We can't let her beat us! Let's get to work." Stephanie agreed that, "We'll call Melissa; maybe just the three of us can keep 'Girl Talk' going, since we've got our piano and guitar." She turned toward Jesse. "Uncle about we let Allie show us how she's worked up for recitals. That way, you won't be pushing things too hard." More quietly, she said, "I know you say you didn't want to pick sides. But, I think I know whose side you wanted to win. Gia wasn't being too nice about things," Stephanie said, something she might not have felt willing to admit normally. However, with Allie there, it wasn't the first time she'd been torn between the two, and found that her own ideals were often much more along Allie's line of thinking than Gia's. Jesse said the real issue was rehearsing more than Gia's attitude, but agreed to take it easier.

The night of the talent show at the Smash Club, Stephanie, Allie, and Melissa performed as the first two in the Tanner home a number of times when younger. They did very well with their rendition of Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All."

Gia, meanwhile, looked confused up on stage and never even managed to stay in sync with the sound track. She wound up hollering at it before storming off stage.

At the end of the competition, they looked over at Gia, who looked depressed. "I'd go over to her, but I don't know what to say," Melissa remarked.

Especially if we end up winning, Stephanie told herself, though inside she still hoped they did. "I know."

Jesse announced the winners - in a very close vote, "Girl Talk" had come in second to two of Michelle's classmates, Derek Boyd and Lisa Leeper, who had performed the song "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart."

Stephanie and her band members stood and applauded with those in the Smash Club minus Gia. "They were good," Allie admitted.

"Yeah. Michelle did a good job with them," Stephanie said, a little downcast.

"Wondering what would have happened if we'd practiced like that since third grade?"

"Not really. Maybe a little. Some of it's thinking about how Gia feels, too." They went up and shook hands with Derek and Lisa as they took a bow on stage. Focusing on others was helping Stephanie feel her old self again fast, as she always did; she didn't stay down for long. "Great work, guys. Keep it up, and I bet you'll really go places."

"Right now, all I want to go to is the bathroom," Derek said as he hurried offstage. Melissa went to sit with her family.

Stephanie snickered as she and Allie went backstage for their guitar and keyboard. "They are cuter than we are. That could have swayed the vote some. But, we did a good job."

Allie concurred. "I look at it like when Joey tied for first on 'Star Search.' We lost to a couple kids who really have talent."

Stephanie had forgotten about Joey on "Star Search." "Good thinking, Allie; thanks for reminding me. Yeah, that's how I'll look at it," she said with a broad grin.

Gia saw them backstage, as she went to retrieve the sound track she'd used. Kimmy saw the three of them there and said, "Hey, look. It's 'The Greatest Love of All' and 'The Greatest Flub of All.'"

"Kimmy, why are you here?"

"I've been asking that my whole life, Allie," Stephanie quipped.

Kimmy explained that she'd come to get a sound track for Jesse to play. "He asked me for that, and after I mixed up the last three orders, your Uncle Jesse told me to take a break so my brain could rest."

"Your brain's best resting your whole life," Stephanie told her.

"All right, Tanner, say it!" Gia groused after a moment. "I was no good tonight! Your uncle's right; I'm nothing but a loose cannon, running all over the ship."

"You're not totally loose," Kimmy tried to comfort her, "you've just got a screw loose somewhere." She thought for a second. "Somehow that didn't sound the way I wanted."

Allie couldn't help but giggle at Kimmy's comment. "You're not helping."

Gia said Kimmy was right, though. "I must have been crazy to think I was any good. I just got humiliated by a couple third graders!"

"You didn't just lose to a couple third graders, Gia. You lost to a couple really good third graders," Stephanie said, trying to lift her spirits by saying the talent was really good.

"I don't think that helped either, Steph," Allie said apologetically. "We lost, too. And, Steph and I were just saying, those kids have a real future. Think how good they might be when they're our age. They're great friends, too, which helps a lot."

Gia sighed as she moped over to a couch in the backstage area. Stephanie and Allie sat, too. "That's just it. They have a chance. What about me? I never had a chance! While you guys had fun dreaming at that age, I was just trying to survive in a house where I heard nothing but hollering, complaining, and backbiting."

"Look, Gia, I know it's been rough. But, that doesn't mean you can't dream now. If Allie and I wanted to try and be part of the next great band, we'd have to work just as hard."

"Right. And, you're still welcome to join us. I don't know if I want to try as hard as Jesse and his bands did, that's a lot harder than a few recitals. But, it does seem like fun."

"But, you've been friends forever; it'd be easy for you." Allie guessed that it sounded like Gia was jealous of her and Stephanie. "Jealous? I don't know if I'm jealous, but I know I wish I had what you have. Even Kimmy's had D.J. her whole life."

All three seemed to recognize the oddity of that statement. Stephanie whispered to Allie, "Better get someone to help, if she's jealous of Kimmy she's entered the Twilight Zone." She wished she knew how to handle such things herself better. But, at least she could try, as Allie left. "Gia, Allie's right, we'd love to have you. You're a friend, too, just like when we've tried to help you with everything. But, it was hard work getting to a close second here, and even then, we couldn't quite win. My uncle didn't just wake up one morning and find himself a star."

"Well, you can let someone else be a star instead."

Stephanie knew one thing - if she and Gia had messed up together, Gia wouldn't feel quite as bad. Instead, Gia had tried to go solo. "Gia, what have I always said? You're a natural leader. You could do it if you put your mind to it."

"No, that's you!" Gia proclaimed. "You're the one who's had to help me. Well, guess what; I couldn't do it. All I did was find one more thing I'm no good at."

Jesse spoke up right away as he and Becky entered with Allie - Joey had taken Nicky and Alex home. "No, you didn't. You had a chance, and made a bad choice. I'm disappointed you tried for the easy way, but..."

"I think she knows that, Jess," Becky told him. "Gia, I know you wish you had it better. But, even with a friendship like Steph and Allie have, it's taken years to form. It's hard to wait for things at your age. But it's worth it to keep trying."

"Yeah, like when I first started out in music I had to practice in garages, basements..."

Becky interrupted him again. "Jess, that's not the issue here." As Jesse tried to speak, Becky continued unabated. "Allie was telling me how she hoped you would really listen to their song. Only loving yourself and not thinking of others leads to problems, of course, like when Jesse was out being a motorcycle-crazed daredevil." Jesse rolled his eyes. "But, the important thing is, it's worth it to work hard and not just go for the easy way with things. You're worth it. That's what they want you to see. You can probably tell my husband still looks on the surface of things at times. When he should be looking underneath more. But, wouldn't you agree that you're worth it?"

Stephanie did. "Yeah, Gia, we care about you, just like Allie would have supported me even if I hadn't played with her. Even if she felt hurt for a little while." Allie concurred.

Gia muttered, "I guess I still have a hard time understanding why."

"Well, it's simple," Jesse said. "It's 'cause they like you."

Becky added, "Sometimes, you can only understand why others give of themselves and stay on the right path till you do it yourself and learn to feel satisfaction from it."

Jesse held up a finger. "See, I used to be a lot like you, but for different reasons. I didn't want to listen to the rules, I just wanted everything my own way. I guess, deep down, I only put so much effort and energy into music because I wanted desperately to succeed. Maybe I hoped you kids would, too. But, otherwise, I didn't really learn what love and commitment was all about till I moved in to raise my nieces. Now, I would have been really disappointed if Steph chose to follow your lead here, just like Allie, I would have felt hurt, but she wouldn't be any less special to me," Jesse concluded.

'And, if you don't want to be in a band again, that's fine," Stephanie added. "I just want us to be able to be friends. Without having to choose between you and Allie, like I felt you were making me do. I know it seemed like my Uncle Jesse was part of that; but he's right, it really was a problem that couldn't have been solved too easily."

Gia admitted that she'd probably put a lot of pressure on Stephanie. "I just want a friend who will let loose and forget about the rules with me. Sometimes it just seems like you're such a do-gooder, Tanner."

"But, look at the good you can do with them." Becky leaned forward and asked poignantly, "Did you ever think, at this time last year, you'd be part of Students Against Driving Drunk with Stephanie and Allie, and doing such worthwhile things in the program?" Gia didn't. Like with Stephanie helping her with other things, it was something that would have happened without Allie there; Allie was mostly helpful when it came to keeping Stephanie from imitating Gia. However, it did help to have both of them around to follow. Indeed, it would amaze her when, a couple years later, they'd be among a group that worked to change the program and rename it "Students Against Destructive Decisions," covering many other poor choices. "Doing good things is rewarding, isn't it?" Becky finished by asking.

"I hate to admit it...but, yeah." She turned to Stephanie. "I know I don't say it. But, I like how you've helped me. I may not always do the right thing like you. But...thanks for being there for me when I mess up. Like tonight." If there was ever a "lonely place" like the song talked about, Gia considered, it was right after she'd messed up so royally on stage, in front of everyone. "I'm glad you're here for me now." The other girls said it was their pleasure.

"That's what love is all about. Our family has always cared about being there for each other," Stephanie explained. She confessed, "We're in the same boat. We each need others to help us stay on the right path sometimes. I would never have gone too far, but I've needed Allie a couple times to help keep me on the right path, too."

Gia was dumbfounded. "You need help, Tanner? Wow. Never thought I'd hear that." To Gia, the fact Stephanie needed help sometimes made Stephanie's level of goodness a lot more approachable. "It does feel good to help people sometimes. Okay. I'm going to try to listen more to you, and not be so tough and stubborn from now on. And, listen to you guys rather than my own anger or whatever's inside me." She breathed deeply, and finally found herself willing to admit, "I really am grateful for you."

Several months later, Stephanie and Gia were in the Tanner living room. "Incredible. My first babysitting job." Allie was babysitting somewhere else. She shook her head wearily. "It was tiring, but it was kind of fun."

"I know. I've started to get into it more, too. I'm glad you've made the effort to be nicer. Michelle and the twins really enjoyed you tonight." She forced herself to smile. Michelle had had a concussion after a fall from a horse, and Stephanie had brated herself some for an argument they'd had earlier. "Of course, I'm still a little mad at myself for what I said to her when she was teasing me about my dry lips in front of that boy." Stephanie could still hear herself singing, "Michelle and Teddy sittin' in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g...." the idea of kissing a boy at Michelle's age had grossed her out. "But, you're right; there's lots of worse stuff I could have said.

"Like what?" Michelle put her hand to her mouth as she saw Stephanie and Gia looking at her at the top of the steps. "Oops."

"Come down here, you," Gia said. "Your sister got a call from D.J. after we put you to bed. She said she was going to announce where she was going to college. Now, your family's got their whole future planned out."

Stephanie rolled her eyes as Michelle came and sat between them. "I wish! Dad's okay with your mom, but I get the feeling they're at their high water mark." Gia agreed. "Uncle Jesse still hasn't found someone to run the Smash Club's day to day operations, though he probably will soon. Joey and Michelle's teacher aren't really close since she's still got Michelle in her class, and likely won't be. The only ones who seem to know what they're doing are D.J. and Steve."

The others arrived home at about the same time; D.J. had called from the restaurant she and Steve had been at, and told Stephanie to have everyone waiting in the living room. She excitedly announced she was going to San Francisco State, a local college that she could commute to, and the one where Danny and Joey had gone. "Let this be a lesson, Dad, about not pushing us too hard," she said, knowing that after she was rejected by Stanford, he'd probably want her to go where he had. She'd been accepted by half a dozen colleges by the time she made her choice, once Stanford rejected her.

As Danny rambled about the school's broadcasting program - he'd had his own TV show there, something few campuses offered back then - Kimmy began lamenting the fact that all the schooling in the world wouldn't help her paltry grades; summer school was for those who were still in the school system and had a chance to go places.

"We talked about getting Kimmy tested to see if she has some learning disability." D.J. was a tad doubtful herself, but on the double date they'd had with Kimmy and Duane, she at least raised the possibility. "I mean, maybe, if we found something..."

"Deej, let's face it. It's too late for that," Kimmy declared. "What would it matter? Even if I wanted to get into the clown school Garth went to, I couldn't. I don't like walking around with a wild outfit."

Stephanie looked up and down at the bright, flashy swirls in no real pattern on Kimmy's blouse, and the pants that were a glow in the dark orange, matching several of the swirls. "You're such a Puritan when it comes to clothing," she said sarcastically.

"Well, the clothes aren't bad. I just don't want to wear a weird wig and makeup." She turned to me and said, "If I was in first grade, it would make sense."

Stephanie smiled proudly as Gia walked over to Kimmy. "Look, I know you don't think you have much hope. But, everyone's got a reason to be here." Gia tried to think of some of the things Stephanie had said to her at times. "If you had learned you had something back then, maybe you wouldn't have stayed in the same school as D.J.. And, you're starting a new part of your life now. Think of it as Kindergarten for adults."

"She's right, you know. It can be lots of fun, if you don't get sand in your shorts when you play in the sandbox," Joey said.

As the others gave him odd looks, Gia continued. "You'd get tested because you're ready to look for jobs. Stephanie says you've blown a lot of chances. But, you still have some."

Kimmy thought for a second, then finally agreed. What did she have to lose?

Gia smirked at Stephanie, recalling that Stephanie had said many of the same things to her at different times as far as making choices and having a future. "Go ahead, Tanner, you want to say it. You taught me everything I know."

"I think we all figured that. You couldn't have said that a year ago," Danny remarked.

Once the others dispersed, and Danny and D.J. were tucking Michelle in and answering her questions about whether D.J. would live there and so on, Stephanie and Gia were alone in the living room. "Wait here; my dad'll take you home."

"Thanks. You know, it still feels weird to do it your way. I always thought about getting back at others. Probably because of what I saw growing up."

"We tease Kimmy a lot. But, we care about her. And, I'm glad you said what you did." They'd be having this conversation anyway, even if Allie hadn't been there for a few years; Michelle's accident had forced them all, especially Stephanie, to evaluate how they handled things. However, one thing was for certain. "You've really made some great strides, Gia."

"I've finally started to think about what you guys said, about believing I'm worth something, that I don't have to be the way I used to be. I think I've really started to see that. In how I was able to help some when Michelle was hurt. How I've been able to do things tonight."

"Uncle Jesse says moving in here helped open up parts of him he didn't know existed."

"I believe it." Gia considered the pain she'd been through, and the way the Tanners had cared about her no matter what. She'd been held back twice, and was actually a couple years older than Stephanie. Her life was going nowhere till the Tanners had come along. Unable to know what else to say, she hugged Stephanie and said, "Thanks for everything." She looked Stephanie in the eye and said, "We might not be as interested in becoming a great band like we were. But, our friendship is way more important than stardom, anyway."

"You've got that right."